Seventy-five years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the dwindling elderly survivors continue to advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons. They recounted their trauma when they were teenagers and young children.
This week, Japan marks the 75th year since the United States denoted two nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. These two bombings were the only time that nuclear weapons were used in warfare. They catalyzed the Allies’ victory in World War II. Yet, the trauma that survivors and their families face cannot be forgotten. More than 200,000 civilians disintegrated into hot gas by these bombings.
At this important milestone, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is a powerful advocate for the abolition of nuclear arsenals. These people —called the hibakusha in Japanese, “a person affected by the bomb,”— cry out to eliminate atomic arsenals. These advocates are not young, but they are, on average, a little over 83 years old. Some were teenagers, while others were infants or in their mother’s womb during the bombing.
As each year passes by, those who have memories and testimonials of these events, the survivors die, but the voices of advocates against nuclear weapons grow. The hibakusha works to ensure that their message and campaign lives on after they pass on.
Survivor Jiro Hamasumi: Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my father
At 74-years-old, Jiro Hamasumi is one of the youngest survivors of this nuclear elimination in history. When the bomb fell in Hiroshima, he was in his mother’s womb, barely an infant. According to his siblings, the bomb disintegrated his father immediately. It killed several other relatives afterward from the direct exposure and the effects of the radiation.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my father,” he said. His siblings described when the bomb, known as Little Boy, detonated as a “dizzying flash and ear-splitting roar.” Their father was at work in the office, just a few hundred meters from the epicenter when the bomb struck.
His knowledge of the attack comes from his siblings’ accounts, who described the dizzying flash and ear-splitting roar that formed the first indication the bomb known as Little Boy detonated.
When his siblings and his mother tried to get to his office the next day, they could not come near it because of the “heat and smell of burned flesh.” When they finally got to his office, they found “something resembling his body.” All that remained were a belt buckle, a key, and a part of his wallet — a few metal items that survived the flames.
When they finally reached his father’s office, they found only “something resembling his body.” All they could retrieve were a few metal items that survived the flames – a belt buckle, a key, and part of his wallet.
Survivor Terumi Tanaka: We can’t repeat a nuclear attack
88-year-old Terumi Tanaka is an older man who survived the Nagasaki bombing. Yet, in his heart, he carries the same fervor to make sure that his experience does not happen again to anyone. “To this end, we have to let people know what we experienced, for them to hear the facts,” he said.
When he was a 13-year-old boy, the bomb hit his hometown, Nagasaki. The attack killed 74,000 people there and came three days after the first bomb lay waste to almost living things in Hiroshima, killing 140,000.
Throughout his life, he advocated for the ban of nuclear weapons by sharing the horrors in his experience. He and others toil to carry on the legacy of this moment in history. They created the No More Hibakusha project, a group whose purpose is to “preserv[e] records as archives, including what we’ve written … so that [the next generation] can use them in their campaigns,” he reported.
Could the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima activate the beginning of a nuclear-free future?